Part II, Chapter XVIII
WHAT MAY HELP THE WAGES CLASS IN ITS COMPETITION FOR THE PRODUCTS OF INDUSTRY.
IN Chapter III. were set forth certain causes which go to heighten the efficiency of labor and increase the product of industry. Under the present title I shall have occasion to speak of causes, some of them the same, as operating to give the wage-laborer a larger share of that product, without reference to its absolute amount.
Bearing in mind still that it is competition in the full sense of that word, involving as it does the strong desire and the persistent effort to buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market, which alone is needed to give the wages class the highest remuneration which the existing conditions of industry will allow, we can not find difficulty in enumerating the principal helps to this end. These are:
I. Frugality. All capital is the result of saving; and the frugality of the working classes, contributing to the increase of the wealth available for the purposes of industry, secures indirectly an increase of production. But we have here only to do with the fact that, without reference to any increase of production, the workman's frugality gives him a distinct advantage, rendering competition on his side, in one degree, more effective. No matter how clearly workingmen may discern their interest in a prompt resort to another market, whether that imply a change of occupation or of place, or both, without some savings out of their past earnings they must e'en say, with the "Third Citizen" in Coriolanus, "We have the power in ourselves to do it; but it is a power that we have no power to do." No human thought can distinguish the several parts of ignorance and of penury in the immobility of agricultural labor in the West of England; but it can not be doubted that the poverty which has existed among that class since the Napoleonic wars has contributed largely to the miserable result. Their scanty earnings have rendered it extremely difficult for them to make any savings out of their wages; the lack of savings has placed them at the mercy of their employers by rendering it extremely difficult for them to escape to localities offering superior inducements. Prof. Fawcett, writing from Salisbury in 1873 or '4, says of the agricultural laborers of that section: "They are so poor that it is absolutely impossible for many of them to pay the expense of removing even to a neighboring county." I have already cited the testimony of Mr. Muggeridge respecting the removal of large numbers from the south and west of England at the public expense, by which persons who had actually been supported as paupers were immediately brought to a condition of comfortable self-support. In some rare instances this removal of laborers has been effected by the enterprise of private employers. Thus, at the meeting of the Social Science Association in 1874. Mr. C. M. Palmer, of Newcastle, one of the largest employers in England, stated that some years previously, when there was great distress in Cornwall, he had sent an agent to collect laborers, paying him so much for each man recruited, offering minimum wages until the men should become instructed in mining, one half the cost of transportation to be ultimately deducted from their wages. Mr. Palmer deemed that the enterprise had been very prosperous both in his own interest and in that of the laborers. The philanthropic endeavors of Canon Girdlestone in securing the removal of laborers from the crowded districts have also been alluded to. But whether such schemes are undertaken by government, by business enterprise, or by private charity, they are almost sure to be successful, if at all, in some lower degree than where the laborer is furnished with means of his own earning and saving, and undertakes his own removal. In strong contrast with the helpless condition of the agricultural laborers of the south and west, Prof. Rogers notes the independence of the laborers of Cumberland and Westmoreland, of whom it is reported that they "never allow themselves to be destitute of such a sum of money as will enable them to emigrate in case the ordinary rate of wages shows signs of yielding to the pressure for employment."
On men thus provided, the casualties of production will work small permanent injury. Their reserves enable them to tide over any commercial disaster, and the return of prosperity finds their efficiency unimpaired. If, on the other hand, the steady decline of industry in their section, under any general or special cause, imposes on them the necessity of migration, they can go at the best time and in the best way. Thus we see that frugality on the part of the working classes goes far to supply that condition on which competition will secure to them absolutely the highest wages which the existing conditions of industry allow. "Wages," says Mr. Mill, "are likely to be high where none are compelled by necessity to sell their labor."
But while frugality is thus a condition of great importance in securing a beneficent distribution of the product of industry, we are compelled to acknowledge that the condition of the wage-laborer is not conducive to the development of this quality. We saw that he must, human nature being what it is, be somewhat less industrious than the person who works on his own account; he is also likely to be less frugal. Take the case of the "peasant proprietor" of land. Is there an hour of the day left, there is always something to be done; the land is ever crying out for labor. Has he a few shillings to spare at the end of the month, there is always something connected with the land which demands its investment. Whether it be work on the growing crop, or the ditching, fencing, and clearing of land, the increase of live stock and implements, or additions to stables and barns, the small farmer has always a good use to which to put every hour of labor and every shilling of money which he can command. After all, it is as Sismondi said: "The true savings-bank is the land."
With the wage-laborer the case is different. He can not reapply any portion of the product of his labor directly to the subject-matter of his labor, for that is not his. If he would put any portion of his wages to a reproductive use, he must seek out some borrower, and the amount he has to lend being small, this borrower must be the bank, which will lend the money out, he knows not when, he knows not where. This is a very cold-blooded affair compared with the application of earnings to the land by the proprietor thereof, who works over it and lives upon it, who feels that it is all his, and shall be his children's after him. Neither the imagination nor the affections are addressed very powerfully by the savings-bank. There is, besides, some delay involved in a deposit, which, however slight, defeats many a good resolution and brings many a half-consecrated sixpence to the grocery or the bar-room.
I have named in the last word the great foe to frugality in the working classes. Wholly aside from the perversion of instincts, the loss of laboring power, and the actual vice and crime resulting from drunkenness, the waste of wealth shown by the statistics of the consumption of wine, beer, and liquors by the working-classes is appalling.
I had occasion in the preceding chapter to refer to the payment of beer and cider as a part of agricultural wages in England. The amount of money actually received and spent for these and stronger drinks is estimated, on respectable authority, as follows: 1869, £113,464,874; 1871, £118,906,066; 1873, £140,014,712. The author of this computation proceeds to estimate the cost of the bread consumed annually by the people of England at £2 12s. 6d. per head; the cost of tea, coffee, sugar, rice, and cocoa consumed, at £1. 10s. 9d. per head: making altogether an average expenditure for these articles of £4. 7s. 3d., against an expenditure of £4. 7s. 2d. for alcoholic drinks, on the basis of 1873. At this rate, six years' expenditure would amount to enough to pay the national debt, or to build a house worth £150 for every family in the kingdom. There may be some exaggeration in these estimates; and it is to be considered that the expenditure of the higher classes on this account is more than proportional; yet one can not set the cost of wines, ales, and liquors consumed by the wage-laboring classes of Great Britain lower than £100,000,000 per annum. Mr. G. R. Porter, in a paper read before the Statistical Society, adopted the estimate that one-half the income of workingmen earning between ten and fifteen shillings a week was spent by them on objects in which other members of the family had no share; while the proportion thus selfishly devoted by higher paid and presumedly more temperate artisans earning from twenty to thirty shillings, not infrequently reached one third.
Yet, in spite of strong and urgent tendencies to dissipation and extravagance among the manual-labor classes, the statistics of the savings-banks show a steady growth of the principle of frugality, the total deposits in 1873 reaching $312,000,000. The deposits in savings-banks throughout all Europe, exclusive of Russia and Turkey, are estimated, in a report of M. Normandie to the French National Assembly in 1875, at a total of $1,180,000,000.
On the Continent of Europe the amount of deposits in savings-banks represents but a fraction of the accumulations of the working classes. The passion of the common people for acquiring land leads to the continuous application of circulating capital to the purchase of this species of property, while the various classes of credit institutions facilitate the erection of workingmen's houses. If it be asked how the acquisition of real property by the working classes consists with the mobility of labor which is so much to be desired, I answer, one need have no fear that the true mobility of labor will be impaired at all by any form which the savings of the working classes may take; that the virtues which are required for the exercise of frugality, and which the exercise of frugality strengthens, afford the best security for all needed movement of labor at the right time and in the right way; and finally, that the individual acquisition of real property is never likely to become so general as not to leave a considerable portion of the members of every trade without ties to the soil.
It is quite another question how the extensive acquisition of public property by the Swiss communes affects the desired mobility of labor in that country. It would certainly appear at this distance to be inexpedient, as requiring an undue sacrifice on the part of individuals whom the conditions of industry seem to invite to other localities.
The statistics of savings-banks in the United States are not to be used with much confidence, for the reason that onerous taxation has in several States driven large amounts of personal property, belonging to persons of means, under the protection of these institutions, which enjoy a partial immunity from contribution. It is not unusual to deposit, up to the limit of the amount authorized by law, in each of a number of banks, and still further to multiply such deposits by entering equal amounts in the names of wife and children.
Notwithstanding this, however, it is evident that a vast body of wealth is held by the laboring classes of the United States in movable form, in addition to the sums invested in houses and lands. In 1873 the savings-banks of Maine showed 91,398 separate accounts, with an aggregate deposit of $29,556,524; Rhode Island, 93,124 accounts, $46,617,183; Massachusetts, 666,229 accounts, $202,195,344; New-York, 839,472 accounts, $285,520,085.
II. Individual and mutual intelligence among the working classes. The phrase mobility of labor is very useful in discussions of the questions of wages, as expressing better than any other the one condition upon which laborers can receive the highest remuneration which the state of productive industry (their own present efficiency being taken into account) will allow, and the sole security which society can have that the inevitable immediate effects of industrial pressure or disaster shall not become permanent. Yet there is danger that the conception of what is involved in this term will be inadequate. Assuming the desire of industrial well-being to be universal, the mobility of labor should supply on the part of the wages class all that is needed for a perfect competition; and this clearly requires something more than legalized freedom of movement, something more, even, than the possession of the physical means of transportation and subsistence needed for migration. The laborer must be in a position to discern where his real interest lies, for to move in any other than the right direction may be more injurious than to abide in his lot, since all movement implies loss of force, and is only to be justified by the prospect of a distinct gain in the result.
This ability to discern where one's interest lies requires two things, the acquisition of just information and the rejection of false information. Of the former it is not necessary to speak. It is seen in the mere mention, how large is the requirement it makes of the working classes; how slight the probability that this requirement will be completely filled. The second requirement is, among an ignorant population, even more difficult. So prone to discouragement are men, especially men lacking in mental training and culture; so efficient is Rumor in her evil office of spreading the news of failure and disaster, that the effects of acting upon false information in a single instance may, with ignorant persons, neutralize the most substantial inducements of self-interest in many other instances. Such persons have little to hold on to, or steady their minds upon; they generalize hastily and passionately, or, rather, they do not in any true sense generalize at all; and after the first shock to their confidence they become absurdly suspicious.
Even in enterprises of less pith and moment, the cloud of prejudice, vague apprehensions, and false conceits, originating in ignorance, obscures the view, in every direction, of the laborer's true interest.
"Few," says Mr. Chadwick, "who have not had experience in the administration of relief to the destitute in periods of wide distress, can be fully sensible of the difference, in amount of trouble and chargeability to the ratepayers, between educated and intelligent and uneducated and unintelligent people of the wage-class—the heavy lumpishness of the uneducated, their abject prostration, their liability to misconception and to wild passion, their frequent moroseness and intractability, and the difficulty of teaching them, as compared with the self-help of the better educated, who can write and inquire for themselves, and find out for themselves new outlets and sources of productive employment, and who can read for themselves and act on written or printed instructions. The really well-trained, educated, and intelligent are the best to bear distress; they are the last to come upon charitable relief-lists, and the first to leave them."
III. Sexual self-restraint. I am not speaking here in the Malthusian sense with reference to the general supply of labor. In Malthusianism the average number of children to the family is the single consideration; it matters not whether each family have four children, or one family none, and the next eight: the supply of labor is equally affected. Again, while in Malthusianism the age at which marriage shall be contracted and children produced is not a matter of indifference, it is only of consequence as it affects the period within which population shall double. I here adduce the desirableness of sexual self-restraint on an account which is wholly additional to this—namely, the influence it must exert upon the mobility of the laborer. We have seen the occasion in modern society for a frequent, one might almost say an incessant, readjustment of population and industry. It is clear, that though the laborer can never wholly escape from this necessity, it is of peculiar importance that he should be as disembarrassed as possible during the years when he is coming to find out his own powers and capabilities, learning how to work, and getting into industrial relations, presumably for life. It is certain that he can make a favorable disposition of his labor then, if ever; that he will never be able afterwards to seek his market with so little of effort and so little of loss.
It is, therefore, economically desirable, without respect to the effect his earlier marriage might have on the general supply of labor, that at this critical period his mobility should be at the maximum. Of course, this proposition does not apply generally to communities in the condition of the American colonies and the early United States, where labor was almost painfully deficient, and where land was abundant. A young man there could scarcely have placed himself wrong; and any disadvantage the impediments of a youthful marriage might have occasioned him was amply compensated by the access of productive power which his rising family soon brought him, in a country where the condition of "diminishing returns" had not been reached. But when settlements became dense and production diversified, the necessity of a precise adaptation of labor to industry, and a consequent readjustment of population, becomes urgent, and that urgency increases with increase of numbers and diversification of products. Hence it is that early and improvident marriages, such as characterize the Irish at home and in foreign lands, influence unfavorably the rate of wages, wholly besides their effect on the general supply of labor. The young laborer is no longer free to abandon the avocation his adaptation to which he finds he has wrongly estimated, or the locality where he finds himself crowded by equally needy competitors, and to seek the price of his labor in a better market; but, tied down by the cares of family, and harassed by immediate necessities, he sinks hopelessly into what he knows to be the wrong place for him.
But if we turn our attention from the fortunes of the individual to those of the whole wages class, we shall see an additional reason, in the interest of a beneficent distribution of the products of industry, for the procrastination of marriage. The desideratum is, we have seen, to secure the readjustment of population to industry. It is clearly true that the longer marriage is postponed, the larger the proportion of the total laboring population which will be free, so far as domestic incumbrances are concerned, to respond to economical impulses suggesting a change of avocation or of residence. It is not merely that, if they go in obedience to such suggestions, they secure their own highest remuneration, but they also relieve the market in those localities or occupations which they forsake. With the disposable element thus increased by the procrastination of marriage, the heads of families, those who, in the words of Bacon, "have given hostages to fortune," may to a very large extent, except only in extraordinary emergencies, be exempt from this necessity.
The average age at which marriages are contracted varies greatly with the industrial necessities and the social habits of different communities. In Belgium, in 21.17 out of 100 marriages the groom is under 25 years; in Holland, 21.42; in Sweden, 21.83; in Norway, 23.95; in Austria, 28.40; in France, 29.06; in Scotland, 41.32; in England, 50.95.
IV. Legal regulations clearly correspondent to infirmities in the mass of laborers, which tend to defeat the real freedom of choice and power of movement.
After making all allowances for the proneness of legislatures to meddle and blunder, and for defects in administration of the law, it still remains true that the wages class may, in exceptional instances, be helped forward in an important degree towards a real and vital competition, by the exercise of the prohibitory power of the State. During the present century, says the Duke of Argyle, in his Reign of Law, "two great discoveries have been made in the science of government: the one is the immense advantage of abolishing restrictions upon Trade; the other is the absolute necessity of imposing restrictions upon Labor." There is here no inconsistency. I have shown in a preceding chapter that those economists who refuse to carry into the department of Distribution the rule of perfect freedom from restraint which they accept in the department of Exchange, do not abandon an economical principle, but only leave behind a practical rule, the conditions of which no longer exist.
The possible justification of Factory Acts and kindred legislation may be thus briefly stated. For perfect competition in wage-labor it is required that the employer and the laborer shall each understand and pursue his own true permanent interest. But this requirement is never completely fulfilled. The employer, on his part, is always, in a higher or lower degree, unduly under the domination of immediate purposes. The haste to be rich, which often makes waste; greed, which is always unwise; parsimony, which disables from business success many a man who has every other qualification, rendering him incapable of ever taking a large and liberal view of his industrial relations; rivalry, mutual jealousy among manufacturers affecting the temper of business and warping production from its best course—these passions and infirmities among employers, quickened at times by stringent financial necessities, must more or less make separation between their seeming present and their true permanent interest. Thus it becomes possible that the employer shall seek to crowd down wages, extend the hours of work, quicken the movement of machinery, admit children of tender age to painful and protracted labor, scrimp in the conveniences of production, and neglect the ventilation and sanitary care of his shop or factory, all in the effort to increase the month's and the year's profits, though such a course is, in the long view, prejudicial alike to himself and his hands. Perfect competition would make the employer the guardian of the laborer's interests. What sort of a guardian imperfect competition makes of the employer unrestrained by law or an active public sentiment, may be read in the official reports of Great Britain, in which the condition of her mines and mills and factories prior to their legal regulation is described.
But the failure of true competition is, as has already been abundantly shown, far greater on the side of the wages class, though in this respect very wide differences exist, due both to the industrial quality of the individual laborer and to the nature of the occupation pursued. The skilled workman, receiving high wages, with an ample margin of subsistence, is always fairly able to seek his best market. Doubtless he fails in a considerable degree, at times, for want of apprehension, or of the spirit of enterprise; but, in the main, he satisfies the condition of a right distribution. Even the unskilled and unintelligent laborer, in occupations involving no extensive subdivision of work or expensive machinery and materials, may find his place tardily and painfully, and make his terms, though at some loss. It is when laborers of both sexes and all ages, each doing some special operation—a small part of a great work—are aggregated in mills and factories where costly materials are consumed and complicated machinery is employed, that the control of the individual over his lot is diminished to the minimum. What is the single laborer in a cotton-mill? What does his will or wish stand for? The mill itself becomes one vast machine which rolls on in its appointed work, tearing, crushing, or grinding its human, just as relentlessly as it does its other, material. The force of discipline completely subjects the interests and the objects of the individual to the necessities of a great establishment. Whoever fails to keep up, or faints by the way, is relentlessly thrown out. If the wheel runs for twelve hours in the day, every operative must be in his place from the first to the last revolution. If it runs for thirteen hours or fourteen, he must still be at his post. Personality disappears; even the instinct of self-assertion is lost; apathy soon succeeds to ambition and hopefulness. The laborer can quarrel no more with the foul air of his unventilated factory, burdened with poisons, than he can quarrel with the great wheel that turns below.
This helplessness, this subjection to an order which the workman has not established, and can not in one particular change, becomes more complete in the case of women and children, while the responsibility of the State therefor becomes more direct and urgent.
It is on such considerations as these, that the economist may, acting under the fullest accountability to strictly economical principles, advocate what Mr. Newmarch calls "a sound system of interference with the hours of labor."
The Factory legislation of England, the necessity and economical justification of which the Duke of Argyle has called one of the great discoveries of the century in the science of government, began in 1802 with the act of 42d George III., limiting the hours of labor in woolen and cotton mills and factories to twelve, exclusive of meal-times, imposing many sanitary regulations upon the working and sleeping rooms of operatives, requiring the instruction of children in letters for the first four years of their apprenticeship, and providing an official inspection of establishments for the due execution of the law. Additional legislation was had in 1816 and 1831; and in 1833 was passed the important act known as 3d and 4th William IV. (c. 103), which forbade night-work in the case of all persons under eighteen years of age, and limited the labor of such persons to twelve hours, inclusive of an hour and a half for meals; prohibited the employment (except in silk-mills) of children under nine years of age, while between the ages of nine and thirteen the hours were reduced to eight a day (in silk-mills, ten); prescribed a certain number of half-holidays in the year, and required medical certificates of health on the admission of children to factory labor. The scope of these provisions has been extended, successively, by legislation in 1844, 1847, 1850, 1853, 1861, 1864, and 1867, until they now embrace all persons engaged in processes incidental to the manufacture of textile fabrics, with but slight exception, and also to the manufacture of earthenware, lucifer-matches, percussion-caps and cartridges, or in the employments of paper-staining and fustian-cutting.
The principle of the English Factory Acts has been slowly extended over a considerable portion of Europe. Before 1839 England, Prussia, and Austria had, in greater or less degree, controlled the labor of children, though to but little effect in the last-named country, where the day of labor was still cruelly long, frequently reaching to fifteen hours, exclusive of meals, and sometimes to seventeen.
French factory legislation dates from 1841. By the act of that year (March 22d) children were not to be admitted to factories under eight years of age. They were only to work eight hours in the twenty-four up to twelve years, and twelve hours from twelve years to sixteen. They were not to work at night, with a few exceptions in the case of children above thirteen, or to work at all on Sundays or holidays. School attendance was required up to twelve years. The number of children in 1870 working subject to this act was about 100,000, nine-tenths of these being employed in spinning and weaving factories. May 19th, 1874, a new law of much greater range and higher efficiency was passed by the National Assembly. By this act children under ten years of age can not be admitted to work in factories, mines, or shops; from ten to twelve years they can work only in certain industries to be specially designated by a government commission, and they only work for six hours in the day; from twelve years onwards they are not to work in excess of twelve hours a day. Until sixteen years of age they are not to work at night. No child can be admitted to work in mines under twelve years, and no female at any age. Universal primary instruction is provided by the law, and a rigid inspection of all establishments in which children are employed.
In Belgium there has been no legislation protective of children since the decree of 1813, which prohibited their employment under ten years of age in mines.
In Germany, by the Industrial Code of April 6th, 1869 (p. 127-132), the age of admission to labor is fixed at twelve years; from twelve to fourteen, children can be employed but six hours a day; from fourteen to sixteen, but ten hours, with two intervals of rest. Night-labor is prohibited. School-attendance and factory-inspection are rigidly enforced.
In Switzerland the age of admission varies according to the character of the industry pursued; in some twelve years, in others thirteen, in others fourteen.
In Italy there are no laws relating to the employment of children in factories, but children under ten years are not permitted to work in mines.
In Sweden, by royal statute of June 18th, 1864, children under twelve years are not allowed to work in factories, nor any person under eighteen years to be employed at night.
In Spain and Portugal no laws exist respecting the age at which, or the number of hours in the day for which, children shall be employed.
In Russia and in Holland there were, according to the British Consular Reports of 1873 relative to Textile Factories, no laws regulating or restricting the labor of children. Mr. Walsham reported that in the Netherlands children were employed so young that they could earn but a shilling a week. Mr. Egerton reported that in Russia thirteen hours a day was the general average of the factories, the children working as long as the men.
V. Sympathy and respect for labor in the community.
It is at this point that we traverse most completely the orthodox political economy. There has been no end of contemptuous ridicule, or grave rebuke from the professors of the science, and from reviews and journals especially affecting that character, towards those who have assumed that a friendly public opinion could effect any substantial improvement in the condition of the working classes. "It is not unusual," says Mr. McLeod, "to hear persons of benevolence who see the shocking misery which even now prevails among so many in this country, exclaim that employers ought to pay higher wages. But all such ideas are visionary."
Especially has the agitation respecting the wages of women been deprecated as useless or mischievous. We are told that "the inexorable laws of supply and demand" determine the rate of wages; that benevolence has no more to do here than with the operations of the steam-engine; that competition is the one irresistible, unrelenting force which overbears all considerations of compassion or charity, and works out a predetermined result with unerring certainty. Who is not familiar with these phrases?
The man would be weak or ignorant who should expect that any but the most exceptional and eccentric of mortals would at any given time pay more than the market rate of wages, or should look upon such possible exhibitions of disinterested philanthropy as likely to set a fashion to be followed by the shrewd, eager, and but little unselfish men who make up the mass of employers. But the question is, whether the force we here invoke may not help to fix that very market rate of wages. It is not asserted that this sympathy and respect entertained for labor by the general community need ever be distinctly present in the consciousness, as a motive to individual or class for advancing wages. But I base the proposition that these do constitute one condition of a right distribution of the products of industry, upon accepted principles of moral philosophy, supported by inferences, which appear to me conclusive, from economic statistics of wide range and undoubted authority in a kindred department of industrial contract.
First, of the reason of the case. Let us recall the principle so frequently insisted on, that it is only as competition is perfect that the wages class have any security that they will receive the highest remuneration which the existing conditions of industry will permit; that in the failure of competition they may be pushed down grade after grade in the industrial as in the social scale, there being almost no limit to the possible degradation of the working classes where a free circulation of labor is denied. Let us recall, moreover, that the failure of competition may be due to moral as much as to physical causes; that if the workman from any cause does not pursue his interest, he loses his interest, whether he refrain from bodily fear, from poverty, from ignorance, from timidity and dread of censure, or from the effects of bad political economy which assures him that if he does not seek his interest, his interest will seek him. Let us bear in mind, moreover, that it matters nothing whether competition fails in his case because he does not begin to seek a better market, or, having begun, gives up in discouragement.
Now, I ask, can it be doubtful that the respect and sympathy of the community must strengthen the wages class in this unceasing struggle for economical advantages; must give weight and force to all their reasonable demands; must make them more resolute and patient in resisting encroachment; must add to the confidence with which each individual laborer will rely on the good faith of those who are joined with him in his cause, and make it harder for any weak or doubtful comrade to succumb in the contest?
And, on the other hand, will not the consciousness that the whole community sympathize with the efforts of labor to advance its condition by all fair means, inevitably weaken the resistance of the employing class to claims which can be conceded, diminish the confidence with which each employer looks to his fellows to hold out to the end, and make it easier for the less resolute to retire from the contest and grant, amid general applause, what has been demanded? He must be more than human or less than human who is uninfluenced by the friendly or the cold regards of men.
And if such a disposition of the public mind must confirm the union and exalt the courage and sustain the faith of the party that hears everywhere approving words, meets everywhere looks of sympathy, and must tend to impair somewhat, at least, the mutual trust and common resolution of their opponents, who shall say that wages may not be affected thereby?
Let us apply these principles to an individual case. Hodge thinks—Hodge is a ploughman, and has been getting twelve shillings a week—that he ought to have more wages; or, rather—for Hodge would scarcely put it so abruptly—he feels that it is dreadfully hard to live on twelve shillings. He has attended a lecture delivered by Mr. Joseph Arch, from a wagon on the green. He is uneasy, and wants to improve his condition. So far, then, he is a hopeful subject economically. The desire to improve one's condition is the sine qua non of competition. Will these stirrings of industrial ambition come to any thing? Will this little leaven of unrest leaven the whole of the very lumpish lump christened Hodge? Will the discontented ploughman seek and find his better market? This is a great question, for upon the answer to it depends the future of Hodge, and perhaps of his sons and grandsons. Let the Spectator tell how he is assisted on his way and encouraged in his weak, ignorant, doubting mind by landlord, bishop, and judge.
"The man has been, so to speak, morally whipped for six months. He has found no friend anywhere, except in a press he can neither read nor understand. The duke has deprived him of his allotment; the bishop has recommended that his instructor should be ducked; the squire has threatened him with dismissal in winter; the magistrate has fined him for quitting work, which is just, and scolded him for listening to lectures, which is tyranny; the mayor at Evesham has prohibited him from meeting on the green; and the lawyer—witness a recent case near Chelmsford—has told him that any one who advises and helps him to emigrate is a hopeless rascal."
Now, I ask, is Hodge quite as likely to pursue his interest and persist in whatever that requires, as if his social superiors and the men who should be his instructors and helpers were encouraging him to better his fortune if he finds a chance, instead of telling him that if he demands more wages, he is kicking against the wage-fund, and that if he kicks against the wage-fund, he is defying an ordinance of heaven; or as if the law were administered occasionally by men indifferent in the dispute between himself and his employer; as if the shop-keeper and the publican and the lawyer and the rector were not all ranged against him? Is it not possible that, for the lack of a little fanning, the feeble flame in Hodge's breast may die out, and he, giving up all thoughts of seeking his fortune elsewhere, return to his furrow, never to stray from it again? And so vale, Hodge!
Political economy, says Mr. Mill, is concerned with man "solely as a being who desires to possess wealth, and who is capable of judging of the comparative efficacy of means for obtaining that end.... It makes entire abstraction of every other human passion or motive except those which may be regarded as perpetually antagonizing principles to the desire of wealth—namely, aversion to labor and desire of the present enjoyment of costly indulgences."
Among beings thus constituted, doubtless competition would prove "inexorable." But, surely, economists should be careful how they apply to mankind as they are, conclusions which they have deduced from the study of such a monstrous race, made up entire of laziness and greed, incapable of love or hate or shame.
Abstract every other human passion and motive! eliminate respect and sympathy! Why, who can say how largely THIS VERY LOVE OF WEALTH is due to the unwillingness to be thought meanly of by our fellow-men, or the more positive desire to excite their envy or admiration? And if regard for the opinions of others may be a sufficient reason, as we know it is, for men to exert themselves laboriously and painfully, why may it not be a reason for men to forbear to press their power and their undoubted rights to the point of cruelty?
As this subject is of prime importance, I beg my reader's indulgence in making an excursion into another department of political economy—namely, that of rent—to see if we may not find there evidence of the influence of this very cause which we have invoked in aid of labor. If competition is "inexorable;" if the laws of supply and demand are "immutable;" if the desire of gain is an all-controlling passion, these things ought to be found so in the department of rent as truly as in the department of wages. As we must make a selection, let us take three countries whose land systems have been carefully studied; countries in which peasant proprietorship is found in an exceptionally small degree, and where, consequently, the question of rent becomes of the highest importance to the welfare of the people. These are England, Italy, and Ireland.
In England, Prof. Thorold Rogers declares, rents have remained at a point much below that to which competition alone would carry them. The vaunted generosity of land-owners is, he says, "really the necessity of the situation. Englishmen would not tamely acquiesce in a practice which continually revalued their occupancies and made their own outlay the basis for an enhanced rent. The rent of agricultural land is therefore seldom the maximum annual value of the occupancy; in many cases, is considerably below such an amount." Again he says: "The tenant is virtually protected by the disreputable publicity which would be given to a sudden eviction or a dishonest appropriation of the tenant's improvements."
In Italy we find local usages respecting land nearly allpowerful, though exceptions exist of provinces where competition has entered to enhance rents. "The same misfortune," says Sismondi, in writing of Tuscany, "would probably have befallen this people if public opinion did not protect the cultivator; but a proprietor would not dare to impose conditions unusual in the country; and even in changing one metayer for another, he alters nothing of the terms of the engagement."
The third country I have taken is probably the only one of Western Europe to which we could turn as affording an example of rents kept at the point to which unrestrained competition would carry them. And if we ask why it was that the "laws of supply and demand" proved here indeed "inexorable," we find not contradiction but corroboration of our principle. It is not necessary to go far back in the history of Ireland to show why it was that nothing intervened here to prevent the tenantry from being ground down by unintermitted competition. It was because sympathy and confidence and mutual respect were unknown between the two classes of the population. It was not merely that the land-owners of Ireland and its peasantry were of different races, of different religions, and, to no small degree, of different speech—distinctions in themselves of tremendous moment. There was more than this and worse than this in Ireland. The title of the landlord was from conquest and confiscation, and to sustain an original wrong had required a system of legal discrimination and proscription, of which the judicious Hallam says: "To have exterminated the Catholics by the sword, or expelled them like the Moriscoes of Spain, would have been little more repugnant to justice and humanity, but incomparably more politic."
It is thus that Macaulay describes the relations of the Saxon and the Celtic inhabitants of Ireland in 1685: "On the same soil dwelt two populations locally intermixed, morally and politically sundered. The difference of religion was by no means the only difference, or even the chief difference. They sprang from different stocks; they spoke different languages. They had different national characters, as strongly opposed as any two national characters in Europe. They were in widely different stages of civilization. Between two such populations there could be little sympathy; and centuries of calamities and wrongs had generated a strong antipathy. The relation in which the minority stood to the majority resembled the relation in which the followers of William the Conqueror stood to the Saxon churls, or the relation in which the followers of Cortes stood to the Indians of Mexico."
This truly is a state of things in which we might look with confidence to find the law of supply and demand "inexorable," and so, in these circumstances, it proved. The improvidence and ignorance of the peasantry concurring, rents were advanced by the acquisitive and aggressive passion of the land-holding class, unchecked by public sentiment or generally by individual kindness, until Lord Devon's commission, in 1844, found that in numerous cases the nominal rent of land was greater than the money value of the annual produce, the tenant being kept thereby perpetually in debt to the landlord, whose interest it became to allow him, thus involved, to remain upon the soil.
Now, I desire not to disparage the influence of other causes in bringing about this result, but I can not think that the history of the land in Ireland would have been what we know it was, had the landlord and tenant classes constituted one proper population, with ties of a common speech, faith, and blood, having equal rights before the law, and with those kindly feelings which, for all that is evil in us, are more natural between men and classes of men, than distrust and dislike. And even with such a miserable relation as existed between the two classes of the Irish population, I, for one, do not believe that such a miserable result would have been possible, had not so large a portion of the land-owners been absentees, conducting their exactions through agents selected and rewarded for their success in wringing money from the soil, seeing and hearing nothing of the wretchedness they caused, and drowning all misgivings in the revelry of foreign capitals.
Time would fail to trace the course of that improvement in the condition of the people which, by general admission, has taken place in Ireland since 1850. Here, again, I desire not to disparage the influence of other causes, but I can not doubt that some part of the beneficial result observed has been due, first, to the great liberalizing and ameliorating movement throughout the kingdom, which threw down so many of the old hateful distinctions of faith and class; a movement in which the reform of the criminal code, Catholic emancipation, the suffrage act of 1832, the repeal of the penal acts against Jews and Dissenters, and the abolition of the corn-laws—each was at once effect and cause of new effects; a movement which was felt latest in Ireland because Ireland had been so widely and deeply sundered in interest and feeling; and, secondly, to the remorse and shame and pity which were awakened by the disclosures of Lord Devon's commission, followed close by that horrible and sickening demonstration, the Famine of 1846-7, which brought home to every man and woman in the United Kingdom, in images never to fade from view, the wrongs and miseries of Ireland. If the peasantry of the Green Isle are better off to-day than a generation ago, it is due, not alone to the general industrial advances of the intervening period, or to the migration of surplus labor, if, indeed, that labor was ever truly in excess, but also, and in no small part, to the happy change which has passed over the moral relations of landlord and tenant.
If, then, after so brief a survey we find public opinion operating thus powerfully in the department of Rent, are we not justified in the assertion that it must also be operative in some degree in Wages?
I do not, be it observed, claim that wages can be enhanced by any but economical causes; I merely assert that respect for labor and sympathy with the body of laborers, on the part of the general community, constitute an economical cause, in just so far as they strengthen the laborer in his pursuit of his own interest, thus making competition on his part more effective, and in just so far as they take something from the severity with which the employer insists upon his immediate interest, thus reducing the force of competition on that side, making it more nearly equal to that which the laborer, poor, fearful, and ignorant, may be able to oppose.
It is in the partial failure of the condition on which I have here dwelt so much at length that we find one important cause of the inadequate wages of women.
But first as to the fact of wages inadequate to the service performed. Nothing is more common than the assertion, in print, that women are paid but one half or one third as much as men for performing the same work. Such assertions are generally based on a misconception of the actual constitution of industrial society. Because a woman working in a woollen factory receives but twelve shillings a week while a man gets twenty-four, it can not properly be said that the latter receives twice as much for doing the same work, since the work done in a factory is of many kinds, making very different demands upon the operatives in the respects of strength, skill, and intelligence, and hence justly remunerated at very different rates, from threepence a day, it may be, to as many shillings. And if we inquire, we shall find that women in a woollen factory are in fact rarely engaged upon the same kind of work as the men. Thus in an account of the organization of a representative establishment given in the Statistical Journal, where the number and sex of the operatives of each class are stated, and the wages paid to each, I note that all the hand-loom weavers are men, all the power-loom weavers women. And I also note what is significant, that the wages of the men employed as handloom weavers are much nearer women's wages than the wages of the men employed in any other department of the factory.
In the same way, in his history of the cotton manufacture, published a generation ago, Mr. Baines stated that large departments were then entirely given up to women and children. Now, clearly, as Mr. Baines remarks, "that which is only a child's labor can be remunerated only by a child's wages." We have seen that the employer can not pay in wages more than he may fairly look to get back in the price of his products. Hence the fact that a woman may require more to subsist upon than a twelve-year-old boy affords no economical reason why she should receive more wages if she only does the same kind of work.
But even though women performed the same kind of work as men, receiving therefor wages less than men, it would not follow, as of course, that their wages were inadequate to their service. The differences existing in respect to the efficiency of labor, both on the side of work and on the side of waste, have been seen (Chapter III.) to be very great as between laborers actually employed in the same operation. Hence it might be true that a man and a woman working at the same table, upon the same material, with the same implements, or laboring side by side in the fields, should receive wages in very different amounts, and yet their respective services be most exactly recompensed.
Now, there are reasons, some of a social and some of a physiological nature, for the services of women, as a body, being in a degree less desirable to employers than those of men. The physiological reasons have been well stated by Dr. Ames in his recent book, Sex in Industry. These are sufficient totally to debar women from many occupations, and greatly to reduce their efficiency in others. Among social reasons we may adduce the generally less practical education which girls receive as compared with that given to boys, and the almost universal expectation of domesticity which is inherent and ineradicable in the constitution of woman, interfering not only with her preparation for active pursuits, but also with her prosecution of them, because it reduces the singleness of purpose and interest with which her duties are discharged, and depreciates in the eyes of her employer, and justly so, the value of services which may abruptly be terminated by marriage. Nor are these industrial disabilities to be wholly cured by any cause that shall not disrupt and destroy society. Just so long as girls grow up in the belief that their mission is not to work in a shop, but to adorn a home, their education will take shape accordingly. Parents and school-boards may lay out courses of study with never so much of utilitarian intention, the mind of the girl will secrete sweetness and grace from whatever food is offered it. And just so long as the same tender illusion lasts—and we know it will outlast much bitter experience—woman will serve distraite, if not unhappy, as one who has a name she has not yet taken, a city to which she has not come. If a man marries, he as a rule becomes a better and more stable workman on that account. If a woman marries, it is most probable that she will leave her employment; it is almost certain that if she remains she will be a less desirable laborer than before. This expectation of domesticity is always likely to exist with greater or less force in the female mind, and will inevitably, wherever it exists, reduce the efficiency of female labor.
Yet though there is thus much misapprehension of the relation between the wages of women and those of men, there can, I think, be no question that the wages of the former are in a degree inadequate to the service rendered, after due allowance for all differences of amount and quality. If there be such inadequacy, the sole cause must, as we have seen (Chapter X.), be found in the failure of competition.
Inasmuch as the failure of competition comes mainly through the immobility of labor, let us inquire whether female labor is under any exceptional disabilities in respect to movement.
In the first place, it needs to be observed that women have far more occasion, relatively, to move to the labor-market than men, and have need, therefore, to be far more mobile and active. This is due to the fact that the industries for which women are physiologically suited are highly localized. Wherever there is population, there are women who feel the necessity of working outside their own families for subsistence: yet the opportunities for their employment in mechanical work are found only here and there. Thus, in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, we find that there were in 1870 29,139 men employed in mechanical labor, and but 1723 women; in Erie County, New-York, 11,357 men and but 960 women; in Wayne County, Michigan, 11,543 men and but 1454 women; in St. Louis County, Missouri, 32,484 men and but 3455 women; in Cook County, Illinois, 24,705 men and but 4652 women; in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, 8698 men and but 791 women. On the other hand, there were 5887 women employed in Hillsborough County, New-Hampshire, against 7627 men; in Androscoggin and York Counties, Maine, respectively 4045 and 4512 women against 3908 and 3689 men. These are only given as instances to show how irregularly and how rarely at the best, the opportunities for the employment of women in mechanical industry occur. An examination of the statistics of industry in the United States discloses that of the women employed in mechanical pursuits, fortytwo per cent are found in only seven counties, comprising but seven per cent of the population of the country.
While women have thus far more occasion relatively to move to their market than men, we find them disabled therefrom, in a great measure, by physical weakness, by timidity, and by those liabilities to misconstruction, insult, and outrage which arise out of their sexual characteristics. Having more need than men to be free to move from place to place, they have far less ability to do so. It must be remembered that it is not a question merely of taking a journey from home to a place where a "situation" has already been engaged, but, it may be, of seeking out employment from street to street, and from shop to shop, by repeated inquiries, and often through much urgency and persistency of application. This is what men have to do to "get a place," often going into doubtful localities, freely encountering strangers, and sleeping in casual company. These, with men, are among the conditions of the mobility of labor which not only secures employment for the individual applicant, but relieves the pressure upon the market elsewhere, and oftentimes prevents that painful or fatal "congestion of labor" which breaks down wages, crushes the hopefulness and self-respect of the operative class, and engenders habits of laboring and living which it may take long, even under favorable conditions, to wear out of the industrial body.
To state these conditions is to show some of the disadvantages under which women have labored in the past from their natural indisposition and disqualification to encounter strangers and make terms for themselves. I would not seek to idealize the sex in dealing with so plain and practical a matter. No one who has had to do with book-agents of both sexes would unhesitatingly award the palm for persistency and assurance to the man; while it is proverbial that female venders of fish, in all countries and ages, have succeeded so far in overcoming their native meekness and bashfulness as to qualify them fully to hold their own whether in a bargain or in a wrangle. Nor would it be just to speak of female labor anywhere as if it were absolutely immobile. Country girls have always gone to the city to find employment in shops and stores; while the cotton factories and the boot and shoe shops of Massachusetts and Rhode Island have always been filled with women from the rural parts of New-England and even from the British Provinces.
Yet, after all allowances that require to be made, it remains true that while, from the specialization and localization of the industries in which female labor is employed, women have far more occasion than men to keep themselves free to seek their own market, they are in fact, from many causes, under serious disabilities in respect to movement from place to place, with all which that implies for females poor and unprotected, and, it may be, also ignorant and fearful.
While much of this disqualification of woman for seeking the labor-market arises out of her physiological conditions, and is not to be cured by law or opinion, it is also true that no inconsiderable part has been due, in the past, to a lack of respect and sympathy for her in her capacity as a laborer, if not to positive prejudice and even to actual physical obstruction offered to her industrial movements. Of the insults and violence not infrequently offered to women seeking employment in departments of industry which men have chosen to regard as exclusively their own, it is not necessary to speak. Women scarcely need this to restrain them from pursuing their economical interests. Intensely sensitive to opinion, they shrink from the faintest utterances of blame; while coldness and indifference alone are often sufficient to repress their impulses to activity.
This unfortunate result—namely, a public opinion unfavorable, or less favorable than is desirable, to the extension of female labor—is doubtless due in some part to the comparative newness of the occasion which women have to enter the general market of labor, from which it results that their entrance is not unnaturally greeted by the body of male laborers interested therein as an intrusion threatening a reduction of their own wages, while the outside community, though disinterested, remains indifferent, not having been educated up to the point of giving women a warm and strong moral support in their efforts to find employment, and of providing adequate protection to them in the casual and often rude encounters which the search for employment may involve.
The necessity for the employment of women in wagelabor not agricultural, in any thing like the extent which exists at present, dates from the decay of the system of domestic manufactures which followed the extensive introduction of machinery in the latter part of the eighteenth century. "The original artisans," says Mr. Mill, "were either slaves or the women of the family." It was the women who wove and spun, fashioned and sewed, the garments, the blankets, and the nets of our ancestors. It is true we occasionally find record of women earning wages in other occupations. Prof. Rogers has pointed out that, in the fourteenth century, the thatcher's help, or "homo," was generally a woman. But, speaking broadly, there was, until the inventions of Watt, Hargreaves, and Arkwright antiquated the distaff and the spinning-wheel, work enough within the house for all the women of the family if we except the harvest season, when agriculture was, as it is to-day in Europe, the occupation, and in Russia the equal occupation, of both sexes.
But no longer can the wife and daughter, in a family where children must needs go mainly uncared for, and housekeeping becomes reduced to the minimum by the scantiness at once of space and of food, do their equal share, or at any rate seem to do their equal share, in the support of the household, within the house. All which now enters into domestic consumption must come in from without; and so wife and daughter must, or think they must, go out and bring in a part of it. At the same time the extension of water and steam-power has made the labor of women useful in a thousand operations for which their strength was formerly inadequate. This it is which has driven women into the labor-market. In families where bread comes hardly, the services of the house are foregone, and wife and daughter, no longer working as of old for the head of the house, go out to seek strange employers and be jostled in public places. Shame on the man, if he be man, who will not gladly give them room!
Coincidently with this great industrial change, involving the necessity of wives and daughters contributing by wage labor to the support of the family, have occurred social changes, of scarcely less importance, which have resulted in a steady increase in the proportion of women who are wholly dependent on themselves for maintenance. What these social changes are I need not point out; the result itself is patent, palpable, and needs no proof.
I have spoken of wife and daughter entering the market of wage labor, as a necessity resulting from the social and industrial changes indicated. And so, in a melancholy proportion of cases, it is. Yet there can be little doubt that it is sometimes accepted as a necessity where more courage and patience and a broader view of self-interest would prove that this might be avoided; and in such a case it would often be truer economy to forego wages to be earned at the expense of leaving the house uncared for. "I find," says Mr. Fraser, Assistant Commissioner on the Employment of Women and Children in Agriculture, "that in my own parish, in Berkshire, the women have a sort of proverb that 'there's only four-pence a year difference between what she gets who goes out to work and what she gets who stays at home, and she who stays at home wins it.'"
With something of exaggeration there is, no doubt, much of truth in this proverb of the Berkshire women. In the eagerness to increase the family income it is not sufficiently considered that, in the absence of the wife and mother, great loss must necessarily be sustained in the expenditure of that income; and secondly, that the ill-effects on the health of the family, on the duration of the laboring power, and on the moral elements of industry may be sufficient in many cases to offset the nominal gain achieved by stripping the house of its service and depriving the household of their proper care. The failure to appreciate that a penny saved is a penny earned, lies at the bottom of many a far-reaching mistake in domestic life as in productive industry. Waste in food, clothing, and utensils; waste in laboring force through ill-prepared and ill-preserved food; waste of the vital endowment of the rising generation through lack of that constant care which is the essential condition of well-being in childhood; waste of character and the formation of indolent and vicious habits through neglect to instruct and train the young, and through making the house cheerless and distasteful to the mature: the waste in these and many other forms which the entry of the wife and daughter on wage labor necessarily implies, in greater or less degree, will surely balance the addition of many shillings a week to the family income.
Yet, after all, there is an increasing multitude of women who, through having no house to keep, or through the straitness of the family means, have no choice but to enter the mill or the shop, and submit to the rude hustlings of the market-place—and room has not been made for them.
It may sound strangely that even in the United States, where it is of general consent that women are treated with higher relative consideration than in any other country in the world, respect and sympathy for them are wanting in such a degree as to deprive them of any part of their equitable wages. I speak, however, of respect and sympathy for women as laborers. In their "sphere," to use the phrase which so exasperates the advocates of suffrage without regard to sex, women have always received homage and service, but as wage-laborers in the public market they have suffered not a little in the past. This has not been from want of chivalry, but from defects of education. The need that woman is coming to have, in modern life, to enter the competitions of industry, has not become sufficiently familiar to the public mind; the idea has been strange, her image in such garb unwelcome. That public opinion which should open to her avenues of employment; which should be a strong support to her in her demands for fair remuneration; which should be a defence to her in her close pursuit of employment, in her urgent and persistent application for work, in her necessary exposure to gaze and comment, and in her contact with much that is strange and rude, has not yet been created in such a degree as to give to the sex all that freedom of industrial movement which might be consistent with feminine purity and delicacy. We have not yet come to appreciate the obligation which their necessity imposes upon us, as men and gentlemen, to follow them with our earnest, active sympathy, and to protect and champion them not less in their labor than at dance or festival.
And what is the remedy? Agitation and the diffusion of correct ideas. Let gifted women continue, as in the past, to appeal for public respect and sympathy for their sisters in their work; let the schools teach that public opinion may powerfully affect wages, and that nothing which depends on human volition is "inexorable;" let the statistics of women's wages be carefully gathered and persistently held up to view. Efforts like these will not fail to strengthen and support woman in her resort to market, thus enabling her the better to realize the condition upon which alone she can expect to receive the highest wages which the existing state of industry will allow.